Reviews: Dungeons And Dragons

Pioneering for its time, but does not age well

In the early 1980s, amidst the mess of licensed cartoons, one stuck out from all the others, captured imaginations and utterly dominated its timeslot: Dungeons & Dragons.

The cartoon's action was more violent than any other animated show at the time, and the story took itself more seriously. This all terrified parents' groups and the National Coalition on Television Violence.

Watching it with modern adult eyes, unless you're aware of that history, it's hard to see what's supposedly so great about this show. It just looks like another generic 80s cartoon; albeit one with great orchestrated music. But all the cheese is what floats to the surface - the bad dialog, the stupid intro, the dumb repetitive jokes (we get it; Eric complains all the time and Presto's spells don't work, ha ha), the characters' casual willingness to accept their scary new situation, the plot which is pretty much action generica, and even the music feels like it's struggling to get you to take this cheese seriously. The episodes mostly boil down to fighting, trying to follow Dungeon Master's cryptic clues, and trying to return home to the real world.

Action and adventure cartoons have gotten better since then; they have better, more fleshed-out characterization, more focus on showing the characters actually living their lives in the world instead of just nonstop danger, and even the action scenes are more creative and entertainingly choreographed. Dungeons & Dragons may have been a pioneering juggernaut in its day, but the progression of time has not been kind to it. It's ironic, considering the show actually did show Character Development and Hidden Depths - Bobby the impulsive barbarian boy is protective of his shy older sister, Eric the constant complainer turns out to be right a few times, Diana takes the lead when Hank is incapaciated. There were even creative attempts to change the status quo and shake up the formula, such as when the heroes attempt to convince Tiamat to kill Venger (ballsy in its time), and when they demand (and actually get) meaningful answers from Dungeon Master.

But the march of progress has left this show in the dust. All the modern viewer would pick up on is not how good the show was for its time, but how bad it is now. Everything it did really well for the time has been done far better since.